Tuesday, December 19, 2006

E Coli & Environmentalism

This could be a devastating side effect of environmental regulation when it conflicts with clean farming technology.

Farms may cut habitat renewal over E. coli fears
Glen Martin, Chronicle Environment Writer
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The recent scares over deadly bacteria in California produce may hurt farm programs aimed at restoring wildlife habitat and cutting water pollution.

Such environmental programs could be at odds with "clean farming techniques" promoted by food processors. Those techniques encourage growers to remove grassy areas that are planted to reduce erosion and trap pesticides before they reach waterways. The practices also discourage habitat zones that might attract animals that carry bacteria like E. coli or salmonella.

Some farmers say they must opt out of wildlife habitat and water-quality programs: If they don't follow processor guidelines, they won't be able to sell their crops.

"The processors have been putting some pressure on growers for the past couple of years over vegetated corridors because of worries that they may be sources of animal contamination," said John Anderson, a Yolo County farmer who grows native grass seed for use in restoration projects.

"But then the E. coli thing happened, and they went from concerned to panic," he said.

Right now, the trend mainly has implications for produce growers in Central California -- where E. coli is the worry -- and for the almond industry in the Central Valley, where concerns over salmonella contamination are high.

E. coli-tainted spinach from Central California was blamed for killing three people and sickening about 200 others in late August and September. Most recently, about 70 people became ill with the bacteria after eating at East Coast Taco Bell restaurants.

Animal feces can contain the bacteria, which is difficult to wash off produce.